11 Following




Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra,  Walter Starkie My beloved 1964 Signet paperback and Walter Starkie translation, of which I was reminded by a friend's recently posted Quixote review (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/182684892)and am now shelving among other brilliant voices. From Starkie's introduction:

"Out of a spirit of fin de siecle melancholy sprang Don Quixote, the first modern novel in the world created out of a life of disillusion, privation, and poverty by a maimed ex-soldier, survivor of a glorious Spanish victory, whose noble nature and gentle sense of humorous tolerance taught him that life is an unending dialogue between a knight of the spirit who is forever striving to soar aloft, and a squire who clings to his master and strives with might and main to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground."

First read years ago when I was a college freshman, and the only translation that has ever suited. From any page I can offer an example of why. The Asturian wench from page 153, for example:

"There was also serving at the inn an Asturian wench, broad cheeked, flat pated, snub nosed, asquint of one eye and not very sound of the other. It is true that the comeliness of her body made amends for other defects. She was not seven hands high from her feet to her head, and her shoulders, which burdened her somewhat, made her look down at the ground more than she would have wished. This bonny maid assisted the daughter of the house to prepare for Don Quixote a makeshift bed in a loft that had in days gone by served for straw."

I am aware of those (most notably Nabokov) who belittle the romanticism in which Starkie delights. Fine. It's a big book. There is room for, among other things, a divergence of opinions and interpretations. As Quixote followers go, however, I have and shall remain in Starkie's camp.

P.S. -- Found the following fun article about Starkie, whose politics I like less than his translation, but a delightful character nonetheless.

Walter Starkie

The following is from the article:
“Walter Starkie and the Greatest Novel of All” by David Gordon, Ph.D.

"Like his godfather—the legendary provost of Trinity College, John Pentland Mahaffy—Walter Starkie (1894–1976) was one of the great Irish conversationalists. When I met him in 1969, he bowled me over. I was then a senior at UCLA, writing a paper on British foreign policy in the Spanish Civil War. I interviewed Starkie, then in his early seventies and teaching in six different departments. He had been head of the British Council in Spain during World War II and was intimately familiar with all the major Spanish and British political figures of the 1930s and ’40s.

"For Starkie, the clear-sighted pursuit of foreign policy goals should never be occluded by ideology. Instead of bemoaning that General Franco was a fascist, Starkie worked during World War II to elicit sympathy for Britain through the exhibitions and lectures he arranged as head of the British Council in Spain. His work played an important role in maintaining Spanish neutrality, though he unfortunately aroused the enmity of the British Ambassador Sir Samuel Hoare. (Starkie enjoyed telling the story of how the Lord Mayor of Birmingham once presented Hoare and his wife: 'Sir Samuel and Lady W.') When Starkie complained to Lord Lloyd, who had chosen him for the council, about Hoare’s treatment of him, Lloyd became so angry that he tore his telephone from the wall and threw it across the office.

"Starkie had little use for the icons of the Left. When Bertrand Russell died, he said to me, 'Father D’Arcy [Martin Cyril D’Arcy, S.J., Master of Campion Hall, Oxford] told me that Russell didn’t do any good work after 1914. I’d write a letter to him, but it would burn up in transit.' Asked about Conor Cruise O’Brien, he said, 'I found him a rather self-opinionated young man when he was a student of mine.' Even Martin Luther King did not escape his scorn. 'Perhaps he wasn’t as bad as some of the others, but he was still pretty bad.'

"Politics, though, was for Starkie but a sideline; he was principally a literary scholar and musician. At Trinity College, Dublin, he taught Spanish and Italian literature. Samuel Beckett was a student in his class on Dante. (By the way, he did not agree with the fashionable view that Beckett was one of the greatest twentieth-century writers; he rated his friend George Bernard Shaw far higher as a playwright.) In his teaching, he drew on his remarkable abilities as a linguist. He knew at least ten languages and was a foreign member of the Royal Spanish Academy, the governing body of the language. 'Sanskrit is not so bad,” he once assured me; 'Hungarian is much more difficult.' I was happy to take his word for it. When I told him that I had to take language exams in French and Latin, he said that I might as well learn all the Romance languages.

"His most popular course at UCLA, though, was 'Cervantes in Translation.' I fear the reason for the course’s popularity do not reflect altogether favorably on the students; Starkie was reputed the easiest teacher in the school. When I took the course, the enrollment was 941, and two extra rooms with televisions were needed as well as the main lecture hall. But those who thought Starkie an easy 'A' got their well-deserved comeuppance, in Booth Tarkington’s phrase. A janitor stole a copy of the final exam and sold copies to a number of students. Starkie discovered the plot and changed the exam. When the final was distributed to the class, several students, including a very famous basketball player, walked out: they hadn’t gotten what they purchased.

"Starkie was certainly well qualified to teach the course. He translated the complete Don Quixote: after he had issued an abridged translation, his friend Luis Astrana Marín, one of the foremost Spanish authorities on Cervantes, insisted that he do the whole thing. (He also translated a volume of Cervantes’ short stories.) When he read from the novel, he would often look up at the class, sometimes going on for pages. I asked him about this, and he said, 'When you have been reading a book for sixty years, you get to know it fairly well.'

"As one would expect, he was not very impressed with postmodernist literary critical discussions of the novel or with postmodernism in general. On one occasion, I showed him a copy of Jacques Derrida’s De la grammatologie. He read a page, dozed off, woke up and read another page, and fell asleep again. He handed the book back to me, saying, 'not very interesting.'

"For him, Don Quixote was the greatest of all novels, and he stressed its influence on later writers. Laurence Sterne is an obvious case in point, and writers as different as Dickens and Dostoevsky drew heavily from Cervantes. In part 2 of the novel, Cervantes has Don Quixote comment on false continuations of part 1; the device in which a novel refers to itself is a key theme in subsequent literature.

"Fundamentally, Starkie maintained, Cervantes was a comic novelist. He was not an enemy of chivalry and the Middle Ages: rather, he poked gentle fun at them. Neither was it correct, as Américo Castro claimed, to view Cervantes as an apostle of the Enlightenment and an enemy of the Church. Castro appealed in support of his view to the famous episode in which Cervantes satirizes book burning; but Starkie noted that the Arabs also engaged in this practice, and the satire might be with equal justice directed against them.

"More generally, Starkie preferred to Castro as a historian the more conservative Ramón Menendéz Pidal. He and Menendéz Pidal were friends, and Starkie prepared an English translation of his book debunking Bishop Las Casas. In this book, Menendéz argued that Las Casas’s claims of vast Indian massacres by the Spaniards were the product of mental pathology. Such a politically incorrect view could not be published in English, and Starkie blamed in particular the influential historian Lewis Hanke for blocking the book’s publication. Menendéz Pidal, who had written the book in his nineties, was quite upset by this.

"The dominant theme of Don Quixote, in Starkie’s opinion, is that the initially idealistic Quixote becomes more realistic as the novel unfolds, while the realistic Sancho Panza moves in the direction of idealism. Eventually, the two figures converge and indeed can be considered as aspects of a single character. In this interpretation, he was influenced by his friend Miguel de Unamuno, whose book on the novel appeared in English translation as Our Lord Don Quixote. Starkie wrote an introduction to this edition. He also recommended to us the work of Joaquín Casalduero on symbolism in Cervantes, though this, he said, was suitable only for danced work. It is available only in Spanish.

"Whether Starkie was right that Don Quixote was the greatest of all novels is a question that each reader must determine for himself. There is no better way for English speakers to do so that to read Starkie’s excellent translation."

[The author of this article, David Gordon, is a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He was educated at UCLA, where he earned his Ph.D. in intellectual history. He is the author of several books, including The Philosophical Origins of Austrian Economics and Critics of Marx. He is the editor of the Mises Review and a contributor to such journals as Analysis, the International Philosophic Quarterly, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, and the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.]

The article may be read in full at: http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/print.aspx?article=579&loc=b&type=cbtp